HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc521-3
29. Mr. John M. Taylor

To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the effect of restrictions on rights of audience on morale in the Crown Prosecution Service. [7308]

The Attorney-General

The Crown Prosecution Service has no statistical information about this issue, but there is enthusiasm among Crown prosecutors to exercise rights of audience in the Crown court.

Mr. Taylor

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that morale in the Crown Prosecution Service is extremely important, and that it is a matter not only of resources but of career prospects, which include the possibility of appearing in the higher courts? Does he further agree that until the service is in good heart there is no point in contemplating a public defender system?

The Attorney-General

I know of the hon. Gentleman's great interest in these matters, and on the first part of the question I agree entirely: the morale is vital. On the second part, the review that we have set up has been warmly welcomed. Given that welcome, I hope that when the results come out, the review will play a major part in the question of morale that the hon. Gentleman rightly raises. The question of rights of audience and employed solicitors has already been decided, and it was clarified as recently as April this year. The question of employed banisters has not been resolved: it is before the designated judges for consideration, and has been for a little time.

30. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Attorney-General when he expects to introduce measures to reform the Crown Prosecution Service. [7309]

The Attorney-General

In addition to the restructuring of Crown Prosecution Service areas to correspond with police areas, which 1 announced on 21 May 1997, Sir Iain Glidewell has been appointed to conduct an independent review of the CPS and expects to report to me by the end of the year. Further consideration will then be given to whether and what changes are necessary to provide for the more effective and efficient prosecution of crime through local public prosecutors.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that, although it is quite fair for the morale of the Crown Prosecution Service to be referred to by the Tory hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), it is far more important to consider the morale of our constituents, who are sick to the back teeth of having court cases delayed by the old existing service, over which the Tories presided? We want news of when Mr. Justice Glidewell's report will be published. Will the public be able to make representations? The people of this country want my right hon. and learned Friend to take a grip on the service, which is badly letting down the criminal justice system.

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the paramount consideration must be the British public as a whole; I endorse that view. I hope that Sir Iain Glidewell's report will be published by the end of the year. The public will be invited to make their representations. In the years that have gone by, I have been aware of the feelings of many Members of Parliament and many petitioners about the Crown Prosecution Service.

I hope that hon. Members such as my hon. Friend and others will give their evidence to Sir Iain Glidewell, who will issue a general invitation to staff and to anyone else to come along and give their views on what they regard as the shortfalls. Matters such as downgrading, delays and discontinuances are specifically within Sir Iain's remit.

Mr. Baker

Is the Attorney-General aware that many of my constituents feel that the barrier set by the CPS before it decides to initiate prosecutions is set absurdly high and that on some occasions it appears that the reason is a backlog in the courts rather than a decision as to whether an action will be successful? Is he also aware that for many minor offences it appears to be almost impossible for the CPS to initiate proceedings and, for matters such as vandalism, only in exceptional circumstances does an action proceed?

The Attorney-General

Those are some of the matters of concern to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) referred. Those matters will come within the remit of Sir Iain Glidewell. At the end of the day, we want to ensure that those who are guilty of offences are successfully prosecuted. The CPS has to take an independent judgment on the chances of conviction in each case, and that is what it does. If there are any shortfalls, they will be examined by Sir Iain and his inquiry.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Does the Attorney-General recognise that we welcome Sir Iain Glidewell's review, but is he also aware that those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind? Does he recall that he and, in particular, his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary went up and down the country prior to the election putting out the idea that the CPS was constantly dropping or downgrading cases wrongly? They went on to say that the CPS rather than the police should have the job of informing victims, but the present Government have put no money forward to enable that to happen and have therefore found it necessary to set up Sir Iain Glidewell's inquiry. Two of its primary functions are, first, to find out whether what he and the Home Secretary were saying is even accurate and, secondly, to find out whether what they are proposing is even practicable. Will he assure the House that the report—when it comes—will be published in full?

The Attorney-General

I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the report will be published in full. If he had not shut his eyes over the years to the grave concern expressed by judge after judge, prosecutor after prosecutor and by Members of this House and members of the public, something would have been done years ago. He may recall that when the Bill which became the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 was first introduced I moved an amendment and said that the issue should be reviewed in five years' time lest we might—all of us—have got it wrong. I do not think that we got it right. Hence, I immediately asked for 42 Crown prosecutors to be appointed in each area, to be coterminous with chief constables, so that the public would know where they stand.